No Right Answers: Luke 2.21–38

2017-1-1-not-rightDelivered at Ames UCC
on January 1, 2017
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

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POETRY
I was a literature major in college. That meant I got read a whole lot of books that I loved. But I also had to take a class on poetry. I remember the day we talked about Emily Dickinson’s “Because I could not stop for death.” It felt like we spent an hour on the first stanza:

Because I could not stop for Death–
He kindly stopped for me–
The Carriage held but just Ourselves–
And Immortality.

Our professor kept asking what it meant. We kept saying, “She didn’t want to die. But death came anyway.” Which it does. But she kept at us: “What else? What else?” She seemed, to me, disproportionately excited to look for more meaning within those 20 words.

I know I passed the class, but I remember feeling dense and dimwitted throughout. Poetry confused me and I felt like I was never “getting it” or getting it “right.”

Twenty years later, I can say the experience of being Christian can feel the same. As people who are seeking the divine, in part through Christian scripture, we can also feel dense and wonder if we will ever get it “right” or know what our scripture “really means.”

TEMPLE PRESENTATION
Look at today’s portion from the gospel community of Luke, for example. It begins with Jesus being presented as an eight-day-old newborn to the temple in Jerusalem.

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

The passage implies that this presentation is a required religious purification ritual for the whole family. But it wasn’t. Ancient Judaism did not have any such requirement. Luke makes this false connection by pairing it with a quotation from God’s instruction to Moses in the wilderness in Exodus 13. Yes, God asked for first born sons to be dedicated to service to God, but that was never implemented as a formal religious purification ritual rule.1

Women did a forty day period between delivery and a ritual, which is detailed in Leviticus 12, but Mary is only a week out of the barn. And there was no requirement for the fathers of newborns.

Saying that it was time for “their” time for purification, meaning the whole family’s, is not historically accurate.

So what does that mean? What does the story mean as told and what does the discrepancy between story and history mean?
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Nazis and Narratives

Published December 24, 2016 in the Ames Tribune

By Eileen Gebbie

Do I want to read another article on American Nazism, Aryan Nations and the Ku Klux Klan (now re-branded as “alt-right”)? Do I need to read about another hate crime against people who are Jewish or Muslim or queer or female or of color? How will such news prepare me for when the violence comes to my door and my soul (again)? How will reading about more physical, emotional, economic and spiritual violence help me to be an engaged citizen and faithful pastor?

These are the questions behind my daily choice to read the news or not.

As I write today, I’ve been following a story about a new campaign to go after people who are Jewish in Whitefish, Mont. It is being promoted by a prominent white nationalist website, one with a specific anti-Semitic agenda, and whose name is a specific reference to Nazism. To the site’s authors and readership, people who happen to be born into a Jewish family (and, presumably, those who convert) are not the same kind of humans as those who happen to be born into another kind of family. So the site has published the email addresses, phone numbers and Twitter names of people in Whitefish, whom the site has identified as Jewish. The site’s authors are advocating for a “Troll Storm”—intense and incessant harassment—against these people on the basis of their perceived religious identity.

Such behavior is vile and un-American, but it is not new or original. Our homegrown hate group, the Ku Klux Klan, was in its origins far more interested in destroying people who were Roman Catholic and Jewish than those who were black, as it is so famous for doing now. But I think this latest iteration of cruelty has stayed with me because I have been to Montana. I have family in Missoula and Miles City. I attended the installation of my great-grandparents’ photographs at the Range Riders Museum. So this harassment is in my own extended back yard, against my own neighbors.

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In Miles City, MT (second from left)

But what does that have to do with me as a Christian pastor at a church in Ames at Christmas?

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Poetry: Mark 1.1–20

Copy of poetryDelivered at Ames UCC on December 27, 2015
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are written to be heard rather than read. Please join us for worship at 10:45 a.m. on Sundays.

Our service this Sunday incorporated poetry rather than traditional prayers. They included “Up-Hill” by Christina Rossetti, “The Risk of Birth” by Madeleine L’Engle, “When the World Was Dark” by the Iona Community, “A Short Testament” by Anne Porter, “In Blackwater Woods” by Mary Oliver, “Walking to Jerusalem” by Philip Terman, and “The Work of Christmas” by Howard Thurman.

POETRY
Although the lectionary has Jesus baptized, in the wilderness, and calling disciples already, I want us to stay a little longer in Christmas.
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Hope, Peace, Love: Christmas Eve 2015

hope, peace, loveDelivered at Ames UCC on December 24, 2015
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are written to be heard rather than read. Please join us for worship at 10:45 a.m. on Sundays.

YOUR NEEDS
For the last few weeks I’ve been asking people what they need to hear tonight. Not just what they want to hear, like the Christmas scripture, but what they need. What you all might need.

Over and over the response was hope, peace, and love.

I wasn’t surprised and I’m sure neither are you. We all know the social, political, and personal pains at hand. So instead of detailing those, let me assure you right away: There is yet hope, peace, and love in this world.

Tonight’s story, and our presence here, tells us so.

THE STORY
Mary and Joseph had a rough start as a married couple. She was pregnant before they were wed and apparently not by her faithful fiancé. Then they are forced to make a trip by an oppressive state that cares not a bit for their well-being or that of their child. Labor pains come on just as housing comes up short. The son, fragile and new, takes his first breath in a stinky barn.
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Christmas Eve Sermon

Published Dec.19, 2015 in the Ames Tribune.

A large part of my job as a Christian pastor is preparing sermons. Sermons, in my branch of the Christian family tree, are 10–12 minute reflections on a piece of scripture. That scripture comes from something called a “lectionary,” a schedule of readings established by different groups of churches that I choose to follow (I can always go “off-lectionary” if so moved).

On a given Sunday I might explore the history of the scripture and its authorship; the political context in which the story we hear is happening; some tidbit about the language and how a word is translated from the Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic; how the scripture might apply to us today; and what kind of picture of God the passage is painting. Some Sunday sermons are done the Monday before, some are completely re-written Saturday night. It depends not only on what I am feeling and hearing about and from the divine, but the events in our larger world, too. So each week is a journey for me as a preacher, and one that deeply enriches my own spiritual life, even when it leads to hair-pulling and worry about whether I will have anything of substance to share.

But writing sermons for Christmas Eve and Easter morning is another matter entirely.

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